Tag Archives: Nacer Chadli

Quality and Steel under the Lights

Britos on the ball

A month into a new job, I don’t have many regular meetings but one that I do have is on Tuesday from 5 to 6pm.  As the meeting came to a close, I was itching to get away.  When the request was made for any questions, the response of one of my colleagues that she had one immediately took her off my Christmas card list.  As soon as I was able, I made a rapid exit and was at Euston in time for the 18:30.  With a brief stop to check in to my hotel, I made a beeline for the ground.  As I reached the Rookery, it was lovely to see Gifton Noel-Williams outside chatting to someone.  After entering through the turnstiles, I found that the concourse was deserted.  In the stand, my family were in their seats but there were not many others there.  Then I heard Tim on the tannoy announce that it was 25 minutes to kick-off.  No wonder the place was so empty, I was ridiculously early … and I was going to have to watch this game sober, not a prospect I was relishing.  My early arrival did mean that I got to see the warm-up.  The notice on the big screen warning spectators to look out for balls flying into the crowd didn’t prevent a guy in the front of the stand being hit by an errant shot from Capoue.  The Frenchman leaped into the stand in order to apologise.  This had quite an effect on my niece, who is a big fan and came over all unnecessary, “I wish he’d hit me.”  Another off-pitch distraction came by way of my sister’s niece, who is studying for a degree in football broadcasting.  She had enquired about opportunities to gain experience at Watford and had been invited to shadow the media team for this game.  She was thrilled, but I think her aunt(s) were even more excited than she was.

Tom Cleverley

Team news was that Mazzarri had made two changes restoring Deeney and Prödl, both of whom had fitness problems on Saturday, to the starting line-up in place of Okaka and Janmaat.  So the starting XI was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Doucouré, Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Amrabat; Deeney.  A surprise name on the bench was 18 year-old midfielder, Dion Pereira.  As the opposition team was read out, the loud cheers for Ben Foster were followed by equally loud boos for Allan Nyom.  I missed the visit to West Brom this season, so hadn’t witnessed the incidents that so incensed the travelling fans on that day.  Even so, the reception seemed rather harsh for a player of whom I have fond memories.

The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring in the sixth minute as Chadli ran on to a through ball and broke into the box, Gomes blocked his initial shot but the West Brom man recovered the ball and looked to have an open goal to aim at, but the angle was too narrow and his shot drifted harmlessly across the goal.  It was the home side who took the lead on 13 minutes with a shot from distance from Niang that he curled past Foster into the far corner.  Words cannot do the strike justice, it truly was a thing of beauty and there were no complaints that the replays on the big screen continued until after the restart.

Gathering for a corner

Niang impressed again, showing great resolve as, despite being tripped and lying on the ground, he managed to get a touch to direct the ball to Amrabat whose low cross was just too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finish.  Niang had another great chance soon after, but this time he volleyed the ball over the target, so the guy in charge of the big screen just showed another replay of his goal.  At the other end, Robson-Kanu met a cross from Chadli with a header that flew wide of the target.  Watford’s next chance came as Amrabat put in a lovely cross that was cleared for a corner with Deeney challenging.  For the Baggies, Chris Brunt really should have done better as the ball came to him in the box, but it bounced down off his chest and Gomes gathered before he could get it under control.  Britos earned the first booking of the game after giving the ball away to McClean, he reacted by taking his opponent down.  As the wall was constructed for the free kick, it seemed that every player apart from the goalkeepers and the taker were involved.  Chadli stepped up and fired over the wall, hitting the outside of the post.  The first card for West Brom came soon after as Robson-Kanu fouled Holebas.  Jose took the set piece himself, delivering a lovely ball into the box but, again, no Watford player was able to get the decisive touch.  Just before half time, Prödl appeared to strain his midriff.  After receiving treatment, I was hoping that he would persevere until half time, but he soon indicated to the bench that he couldn’t continue and was replaced with Janmaat.  As the half came to an end, there were a number of niggly fouls from the visitors which culminated in McClean earning a yellow card for standing on Holebas’s heel.  The half time whistle was greeted with boos from the Rookery but, on this occasion, they were directed at the opposition, who can only be described as classic Pulis.  In contrast, the Hornets had been terrific playing some of the best football we have seen this season.  And that goal ….

Celebrating Deeney’s goal

As Foster took his place in front of the Rookery for the second half, he was given a very warm reception, which he acknowledged.  The visitors made a half time substitution with McLean making way for Phillips, presumably as his antics at the end of the first half suggested that he was at high risk of being sent off.  The second period started perfectly for the Hornets as a lovely pass over the top from Niang reached Deeney, who had two defenders on his case but, as Foster came out to meet him, somehow he managed to connect with the ball and send it into the net.  It was a goal as scrappy as Niang’s had been exquisite, but they all count and the celebrations were mighty.  Chadli had a decent chance to reduce the deficit for the visitors, but turned his shot wide of the near post.  At the other end, a misplaced clearance went straight to Niang, who advanced and tried a shot that was blocked.  The Hornets threatened again as Amrabat played the ball out to Janmaat, who put in a lovely cross, but neither Deeney nor Niang was able to connect.  On 65 minutes, there was a tussle between Britos and Rondon just outside the Watford box.  The West Brom man went down very easily sparking fury in the home crowd as the Uruguayan was shown a second yellow and sent off.

Man of the match Doucoure

For the second game running, Amrabat was substituted after a terrific showing.  This time he made way for Mariappa making his first Premier League appearance since his return to Vicarage Road.  Any concerns that young Ady might be rusty due to his lack of game time disappeared with his first involvement as he met a ball into the Watford box with a confident clearing header.  West Brom had a decent chance to get back into the game as the evil Rondon met a cross from Morrison, but his header was just over the bar.  Success was given his customary ten minutes on the pitch as replacement for Niang whose departure gave the guy running the big screen an excuse to show his goal yet again.  Following the sending off, the Hornets had spent most of the time in their own half, but it had been a sterling rearguard effort with the Baggies rarely threatening the goal.  The effort off the pitch had been equally impressive as the fans in each of the stands were on their feet singing their hearts out for the lads.  As the clock reached 90 minutes, there was little chance of the Hornets getting anything other than a win, but the clean sheet became of paramount importance.  So hearts were in mouths in time added on as a cross reached Nyom at the far post, thankfully his shot rebounded off a team mate to safety.  The former Watford man had another chance to reduce the deficit but, despite having two shots, he couldn’t make the breakthrough as the first was blocked and the second saved by Gomes.  The visitors had one final chance and I punched the air when Morrison put his shot into the Family Stand.

Capoue, Doucoure and Amrabat celebrate in front of the Rookery

At the final whistle, there were great celebrations and hugs in the Rookery and it was lovely to see the players gathering to do a proper lap of honour, enjoying the adulation of the fans.  This had been a truly impressive performance against a decent team who are very adept at stopping other teams playing.  Niang put in a performance showcasing what he can really do and was a joy to watch.  Doucouré was man of the match for an impressive turn running the show in midfield.  Special mention also to Adrian Mariappa, who could be forgiven for struggling when drafted in to a ten man team after so long without a game, but he was excellent.

When Britos was sent off, it seemed disastrous.  But it resulted in a resilient performance from the players and a passionate reaction from the fans, which is always better when played under the lights.

Before the game last Saturday, there was a genuine fear that we could be pulled into a relegation battle.  Three days and six points later we are feeling comfortable in 9th position in the table and Walter Mazzarri is a football genius.  It’s a funny old game.

A Battering at White Hart Lane

The teams line up for the handshake

The teams line up for the handshake

After an encouraging performance at home to Chelsea, we made the trip to White Hart Lane.  The feeling of injustice after the last minute offside winner at Vicarage Road still rankled, but I really wasn’t expecting anything from this game.

Team news was that Flores had made five changes which included a full debut for Suárez and resting Deeney, a player that I can never imagine needing a rest, although it was reported that he had failed a fitness test before the game.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Suárez, Abdi, Jurado and Ighalo.  It looked like a fairly defensive line-up and there were questions about how Ighalo would fare without his pal.

Prior to the match, we’d been warned to get there by 2pm because of the “enhanced security”.  As it was, the searching process was no worse than at Swansea, although I do object to being treated like a criminal when going to a place of entertainment, and we were soon in our seats.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel, I struggled to spot the Watford players as we were wearing our black away kit, while the Spurs team came out in black track suit tops, so the teams appeared to merge into one.  Prior to kick off there was a minute’s applause for Peter Baker who was part of the double winning side in 60/61.  It was beautifully observed by both sets of fans.

Ake preparing for a throw

Ake preparing for a throw

The first attack of the match came from Harry Kane, who broke into the box with Aké in attendance who couldn’t stop the shot, but helped to ensure that it was weak and easy for Gomes to gather.  A Britos miskick put the Hornets in danger, but Gomes came charging out of the area to clear.  Then Chadli met a Trippier cross with a header that bounced off Nyom’s head and out for a corner.  Spurs continued to dominate as a corner was met with a defensive header that dropped to Dembélé who shot wide of the near post.  On the half hour, Davies hit a dangerous shot that took a deflection off Nyom which, thankfully, took it into the side netting.  Davies played a lovely one-two with Chadli before unleashing a shot that Gomes got a hand to before it was eventually cleared after a scramble.  A free kick from Lamela was met by a header from Chadli that was terribly weak and flew wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came in the 35th minute as Lloris came out for a clearance prompting Abdi to try to chip him, but the shot ended up on the roof of the net.  The Spurs onslaught continued as a Nyom tackle broke to Davies who advanced and shot, but Gomes saved.  The resulting corner reached Lamela but, again, Gomes was equal to the shot.  Harry Kane was the next to threaten the Watford goal but, with Britos challenging, he shot over the bar.  Towards the end of the half, there was a glimmer of hope for Watford fans with a lovely period of passing but, sadly, it finished with a through ball from Jurado to Ighalo being intercepted by the defence.

Capoue challenging

Capoue challenging

The first half had been very disappointing.  Playing Ighalo alone upfront had left him isolated and ineffectual.  But he wasn’t the only one struggling as, every time Watford tried to break, there seemed to be a Spurs player available to intercept the pass.  Spurs were playing very well, not giving us any time on the ball and forcing misplaced passes.  The much anticipated debut from Suárez had been very disappointing, he has a great touch but made no impact on the game.  After the break he made way for Behrami and Deeney replaced Abdi.

Early in the second half, there was a penalty appeal for the home side as Kane went down after a challenge with Gomes.  Thankfully the referee waved the appeals away.  There followed another worrying period for the Hornets as every attempted clearance came back, so it was a relief finally to see the ball in the arms of Gomes.  There was another chance for Spurs as Lamela played the ball out to Kane whose shot was parried by Gomes.  Less than 10 minutes into the half Britos, who had earlier had treatment for an injury, could no longer continue and was replaced by Prödl.  Soon after, there was a rare attack from the Hornets as Capoue battled past a couple of challenges before releasing Ighalo who, sadly, was flagged offside.  At the other end Cathcart did very well to turn a Trippier cross out for a corner.  The first booking of the game came as Capoue lost the ball to Trippier and then fouled him trying to win it back.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Spurs made their first substitution on the hour replacing Chadli with Alli.  The youngster’s first act was to pass to Lamela who was falling as he attempted his shot which was easy for Gomes to gather.  Spurs took the lead on 64 minutes as Trippier converted a cross from Alli.  It appeared to be a poor goal to give away but it felt like a miracle that we had held out that long.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as a ball over the top into the box was met with a defensive header that dropped to Deeney who shot over the bar.  At the other end, Lamela latched on to a through ball but shot past the near post.  Almost immediately he was replaced by Son.  Spurs had a good chance to increase the lead as a cross from Erikson reached Wimmer who played the ball back across the box instead of towards the goal and Nyom was able to clear.  A ball over the top to Deeney was cleared before it reached him, then Jurado played in Ighalo whose shot was blocked.  At the other end Son tried his luck but his shot was saved by Gomes.  Then a ball into the Spurs box was headed clear by Wimmer before Deeney could convert.  Gomes was in action again soon after saving a shot from Erikson.  Then Capoue played a ball over the top to Deeney, but there were two defenders on him before he could shoot so he passed to Ighalo whose shot was deflected for a corner.  The set piece from Watson was too deep and came to nothing.  Watford threatened again as Capoue found Ighalo who tried an overhead kick that flew well wide.  On 90 minutes, Jurado tried a shot but Lloris was equal to it.  Then a cross from Nyom was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo whose shot was saved but the flag was up anyway.  The final action of the game was a throw from Aké which was headed on by Deeney, but Lloris gathered.

Gomes lines up a free kick

Gomes lines up a free kick

It was a relief when the final whistle went.  Watford had put in a better performance in the second half and could have nicked an equalizer, but we had been battered by Spurs over the 90 minutes.  It was testament to the defence and, particularly, Gomes, that we had only conceded the one goal.  Flores had set us up to contain Spurs in the first half and, while I didn’t enjoy that any more than I enjoyed the game at Man City when he employed the same  tactics, the result was as expected and our goal difference didn’t suffer which is a positive that I took from the result.

Being second best to this Spurs team is no disgrace and, now that the dust has settled, I reflect that 25 games into the season we are still in 10th place, 10 points clear of the relegation zone and with a better goal difference than anyone below us (and Liverpool).  We have some very winnable games coming up and probably only need two more wins to guarantee survival.  If you’d told me at the start of the season that that would be the case at this point in the season, I would have bitten your hand off.

A Valiant Effort Against the Spurs

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

Capoue passes under a challenge from Alli

There’s no rest for the wicked so, two days after the trip to Stamford Bridge, we were back at Vicarage Road for the game against Spurs.  I arrived at the West Herts early doors to see Don and a number of others milling around outside as the doors were not yet open.  My reason for getting there early was that I had completely forgotten to get a calendar this year.  I always have a Watford calendar on my office wall at work, so it was essential that was rectified.  I am not a shopper, I only ever venture into town when I have something particular to buy, so it is a while since I’ve been in the Hornet shop and my calendar ended up costing me over £150 as other Watford related delights caught my eye.  I walked to the ground with Karoline and other members of the Vicarage Roadies and we reflected on the Boxing Day game and the season so far, both topics bringing smiles to our faces.  On reaching Vicarage Road, a smartly dressed man caught my eye and then asked if I had any spare tickets.  Don’t you love the Premier League?

Today was going to be a very tough test and it was amusing to reflect that three matches into the run of Christmas games that we had all been dreading at the start of the season, this was the first one in which we would face a club above us in the table.

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Ighalo leaps for a corner

Team news was that Aké regained his place in the side and Nyom was rested in favour of Anya.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Britos, Cathcart, Anya, Watson, Capoue, Jurado, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  The Tottenham team included former loanee, Danny Rose.  When I got to my seat, I found one of the 1881 flags that hadn’t been claimed by anyone else so I joined in the pre-match flag waving.

There was a lively start from the visitors as Kane came running into the box but was stopped by a great tackle from Aké.  The next tackle of note was less impressive as Alli slid through Capoue to earn himself a yellow card.  Watford’s first goal attempt came as Ighalo connected with a cross from Anya, but he was poorly positioned and directed his header wide, although the flag was up for offside anyway.  The next threat from the visitors came from a cross from Trippier that was headed clear by Watson.  Watford then had a couple of decent chances both of which fell to Capoue.  The first came from a corner that was cleared to the Frenchman, who shot high and wide.  Then Watson found Deeney whose shot was blocked, again it dropped to Capoue who shot well wide of the target prompting chants of “that’s why we sold you” from the Tottenham fans.  The visitors took the lead on 16 minutes as Cathcart lingered too long on a ball in the midfield, Lamela stole it and advanced upfield, Britos stood off and allowed him to shoot past Gomes.  It was a gift of a goal, but it is hard to criticise Cathcart who has been a rock this season.

Returning from the goal celebration

Returning from the goal celebration

Spurs threatened again as Kane broke forward, fighting off the attentions of Cathcart, he cut the ball back to Lamela who mishit his shot which flew well wide of the target.  At the other end, Deeney flicked the ball to Ighalo in the box, but Dier was on hand to clear.  Then Deeney connected with a cross from Capoue and headed it down for Ighalo, but the defenders closed him down and prevented the shot.  The Nigerian had another chance soon after as Jurado played the ball out to Aké on the left wing, he crossed for Ighalo who volleyed wide.  For the visitors, Alli tried a shot from distance that was well wide.  Rose tackled Abdi and fed Kane who advanced on goal but his shot was well over the target.  Jurado tried a low shot from distance but Lloris was down to save.  Gomes was called into action to deal with a cross-cum-shot from Trippier that he pushed clear.  At the other end Lloris had to deal with a cross from Aké that was also tipped clear.  It was almost half time when Jurado found Abdi on the edge of the box, his shot was blocked, but the ball wasn’t cleared and suddenly Ighalo had the ball and was beyond the defence and shooting past Lloris.  Just remarkable.  Tottenham had a chance just before half time as a defensive header by Deeney reached Trippier, but he could only shoot wide.

So we reached half time level.  Spurs had done a good job of snuffing out Watford’s attack but, apart from the goal which was the result of poor defending from Watford, Gomes had not been tested.

Anya takes a throw-in

Anya takes a throw-in

At the start of the second half, Behrami replaced Abdi.  Spurs had also made a change just before the end of the first half replacing the injured Dembélé with Erikson.  The first action of note in the second period was the award of a yellow card to Britos for a foul on Trippier.  The tackle was right in front of Flores who did not look impressed with the decision.  Erikson played a ball over the top to Kane, but the England man shot straight at Gomes.  Watford fans’ impression of the referee was not improved when Jurado was booked for a foul on Alli that could easily have gone the other way.  Just before the hour mark, Kane met a cross from Trippier with a diving header that flew wide of the target.  Flores made his second substitution soon after bringing Prödl on for Britos.  Watford’s first goal attempt of the half came as a Cathcart free kick was met by a header from Deeney that was cleared.  On the hour, the Hornets were reduced to ten men.  From our angle in the Rookery, Aké appeared to make a good tackle on Lamela who went down dramatically, the Spurs players surrounded the referee and the youngster was shown a red card.  Deeney was then shown a yellow for protesting.  Subsequent television pictures indicated that the foot was high, but Lamela’s dramatic fall wasn’t the first time that we had seen theatrics from the Spurs players so, subsequently, every touch by a visitor was booed.

Britos lines up a free kick

Britos lines up a free kick

The mood in the home end was not helped when Ighalo was penalized for trying to shake off the attentions of a Spurs defender as he tried to break down the right.  Odion was also shown a yellow card, I can only think that he had let the lino know exactly what he thought of him.  Thankfully I wasn’t on the pitch as my reaction would have earned me a straight red.  I wasn’t the only one to be angry as the Rookery rang out with “You’ve only got 12 men.”  Each side made a substitution as Nyom replaced Jurado and Son came on for Carroll.  Spurs threatened for the first time since the sending off as Erikson played the ball through to Son, but Gomes was out to save at his feet.  There were cheers from the home fans as the referee finally gave a free kick Watford’s way, although he really couldn’t ignore Alderweireld’s wrestling move on Capoue which finished with the Frenchman being thrown to the ground and the Spurs man’s name in the referee’s book.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as a corner from Watson was headed goalwards by Deeney, Lloris punched the ball into the air which led to a goalmouth scramble but it was eventually cleared.  Danny Rose was the next to earn the wrath of the Watford faithful as he went down near the Watford box in an attempt to stop an attack by Deeney.  The referee had words.  With 5 minutes of normal time remaining, Watford had a series of corners and thought they had scored when Watson’s delivery was cleared from inside the goal by Lloris, but the ref’s watch didn’t go off so the ball can’t fully have crossed the line.

Watson takes a free kick

Watson takes a free kick

As Watford had looked the most likely winners, it was heartbreaking to see the ball in the net at the other end as a cross from Trippier reached Son who back-heeled the ball past Gomes.  I was looking for a flag that never came and replays showed that my instincts were correct.  The guy standing next to me just shook his head and lamented “after all that wonderful defending.”  My comments were written in my notebook and have had to be omitted from this report on the grounds of decency.  In time added on, Deeney had a chance to grab a point for the Hornets but his shot was blocked and the points went to North London.  There were boos for the referee at the final whistle.  Ighalo collapsed to the ground in disappointment (and exhaustion) and was helped to his feet by Flores who then went to the referee and had a few words.  The officials left the pitch to loud boos that were accompanied by applause for the efforts of the players.  Once he had reached the tunnel, the cheers started for the disappointed players who were still out applauding the crowd.

Gomes ready to launch the ball

Gomes ready to launch the ball

The result felt like a great injustice.  After Ake’s sending off I had feared that Spurs would take control, but the Hornets had defended magnificently and the visitors had never really looked like getting a winner so for them to win it at the death seemed so unfair.  This game felt like a flashback to our last visit to the top division when decisions seemed to go against us and every mistake was punished.  But the fact that it has taken until the 19th game of the season for me to feel like that is a cause for celebration.

The next game will be very interesting.  In the game away at Man City we set up to defend and hardly crossed the half way line.  Facing them at home is likely to be a much different proposition and one I am relishing, even if I’m not expecting anything from the game.  But our season does not depend on our results against teams like City and Spurs and, if the second half of the season is anything like as good as the first half, we are in for a treat.

Happy New Year!